Today we set off on our road trip. Lucy planned the whole route using her previous trips as basis and she did a terrific job. She has driven all the way, so much thanks to her!
Left Belfast just after 8am – it was still dark. We headed out on the motorway and then took the Causeway Coastal Route. It is billed as one of the great drives of the world and I wouldn’t argue with that at all. The roads hug the coast all the way for about 90 miles, sometimes literally feet from the water, sometimes travelling through the glens – great green valleys – sometimes atop cliffs and beside castles. The scenery is staggeringly beautiful and unsurprisingly has featured in quite a few films, notably many episodes of Game of Thrones were filmed around here. Much of the cast was resident in Belfast for large periods of time.
Our first stop was Carnlough, to visit the little harbour there. Very picturesque with the fishing boats. It was used in GOT when Arya was dunked there when she was repeatedly stabbed by The Waif in scenes set in the fictional village of Braavos.
Our next stop was The Caves of Cushendon, which we were lucky enough to experience completely alone. Hugely atmospheric sea caves, the light within is very special. We clambered across the rocky beach to get to them. It was here that Melisandre, the Red Witch, gave birth to the Shadow Creatures. Just as we got back to our car, a whole coachload of GOT tourists turned up. So glad we were ahead of them!!!
Our next stop was Ballintoy Harbour, a breathtakingly beautiful little place, down a long lane to the sea. There are lots of rocks all around the tiny harbour, strange shapes, more caves and crystal clear water. It was used for the Iron Islands in GOT. We clambered along the harbour wall and the cove. It started to lightly drizzle while we were here, but somehow that just added to the atmosphere of the place.
By now we were getting a little peckish so we pressed on, past some places we will return to tomorrow, to get to lunch which was at Harry’s Shack, on the beach in PortStewart. This is a modern beach restaurant, somewhat reminiscent of 15 at Watergate Bay in Cornwall. The beach at PortStewart is National Trust and it is spectacular: absolutely massive great stretch of sand, good surf line, pristine…. there were lots of people enjoying it even on a grey day like today. There have been quite a few scenes filmed here too. Think Jaime Lannister and Bronn duelling the Dornish guards….
We had a nice table by the windows looking over the beach. Started with a shared bowl of crispy fried squid. Then Lucy and I both ordered the whole plaice in a butter sauce with capers and cockles, and Daisy went for the fish and chips. Everything was delicious, even the new potatoes which came with more lovely Irish butter….. butter is in everything here. All the food is utterly delicious but it is a bit of a “heart attack on a plate”. Never mind, for a long weekend, just dig in and enjoy the luxury of the experience. Anyway, we had a lovely lunch. It was a good break but by 2pm we had to tear ourselves away to get to the Giant’s Causeway with enough time before it got dark at 4.
The Causeway is also NT protected. There is a large visitors centre and parking. If you enter through the centre, you will pay about £11 which gives you access to the site, a ticket to ride up and down on the bus and parking. I am a member so I got all that free. However, you can park on the road and use the public footpath to get to the causeway without paying a penny. Having secured the free parking, we walked down and back up anyway, so I didn’t use the bus. It’s about a 20 minute walk from the visitor centre to the actual causeway and there were amazing views all the way and rangers positioned at key points to explain what was visible. The landscape is weird. The rocks are so regularly formed, so hexagonal, that it seems impossible for them to be a natural phenomenon, yet they are. The stones are formed by intense volcanic activity and cooling 60 million years ago. No wonder ancient people created myths and legends around the Causeway. If you look at them long enough, you can see animals and symbols on the stones…..
We scrambled gingerly over the wet rocks. I am very careful since breaking my leg some years ago. It wasn’t too difficult actually. There were quite a few people there although apparently this was not a busy day. I wish we could have got it alone! That would have been magical. So glad to have seen it though after all these years. Well worth the visit!
We walked back up the hill — harder than going down and by the time we got to the carpark, the round trip had burned 120 calories. About a yoghurt….. hmmm….
On to our b&b for the night in Portrush. An immaculately new place called AllSeasons website
A really nice room and bathroom. Super comfortable. Had a bit of a rest and showers and then went down to Portrush for dinner. Looked a picturesque little port in the night-time. We went into the Harbour Pub and Bistro. It was rammed. The bar was doing great trade and was exactly what you imagine an Irish pub is going to be like. The restaurant is in the rear and was also going great guns. And no wonder! The portions were enormous and it was all very well cooked. We all went for the t bone steaks cooked on a wood grill accompanied by tobacco onions, stuffed peppers and the girls had sides of spinach in a cheese cream sauce plus some champ…. All very, very good. We had two large Shortcross g&ts (local) and a bottle of rioja. It was about £35 each. We couldn’t eat it all!
Staggered out, in a sort of food coma and headed home…. a last day of touring tomorrow. Have I mentioned how incredibly friendly all the people we have met have been?? Seriously, I don’t think I have ever felt more welcome anywhere. Everyone we meet just goes out of their way to make it clear that we are welcome and that they are proud and happy to help us enjoy the region. It is very noticeable.